Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall including Closegate and Water Tower


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019814

Date first listed: 18-Jan-1930

Date of most recent amendment: 23-Apr-2003


Ordnance survey map of Newcastle upon Tyne town defences: section of curtain wall including Closegate and Water Tower
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Newcastle upon Tyne (Metropolitan Authority)

National Grid Reference: NZ 24889 63609


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Between the Roman and the post-medieval periods a large number of English towns were provided with defences. These defences also served to mark the limits of the town or its intended size and could be used to defend the town in times of trouble. Their symbolic role in marking out the settlement was also significant. Newcastle was first granted permission to build a town wall in 1265. It enclosed the Roman and medieval core of the town and served to form its protection throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods. Building of the wall began on the north side of the town and continued around the eastern and western sides simultaneously. During its construction, the planned line of the walls was changed; on the west side, where they had been heading towards the castle, the walls turn abruptly south towards the river, and on the east side, they make an eastwards extension in order to enclose the suburb of Pandon, granted to Newcastle upon Tyne in 1298. The curtain wall is of squared and coursed sandstone blocks, although the ashlar varies considerably in character and quality. Where excavation has taken place the wall is seen to have been constructed in a narrow foundation slot, straight onto the ground surface or on a broad raft of sandstone blocks. Above the foundation base there is a double chamfered plinth which in some places is stepped down in order to accommodate a change in the gradient. The wall also displays great variety in thickness and height; the height range from the top of the footings to the wall walk of all the upstanding sections of the curtain wall is from 4.4m to 6.6m. The thickness of the wall immediately above the double chamfered plinth ranges from 1.98m to 3.3m. The curtain wall was surmounted by a parapet walkway, and where it survives it varies in height from 1.53m to 1.68m above the top of the wall walk. The wall contained 17 interval towers which projected forwards from the line of the wall and about 40 intermediate turrets, normally flush with the outer face of the curtain wall but overhanging the internal face on a series of corbels. Gateways were built at Newgate, Westgate, Closegate, Sandgate, Pandongate and Pilgrimgate, each defended by a pair of gatehouses. A lesser gateway at Sallyport and two posterns, Blackfriars and Whitefriars were also built. The wall was strengthened by an external ditch up to 20m wide and 4.5m deep separated from the wall by a berm (a level space between a defensive wall and a ditch in order to defend it). The ditch, known as the King's Dykes, was completed in 1316, sometime before completion of the wall. The defences continued to function as the town's main form of defence through to the 19th century. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the towers and some of the gates became the meeting places of a variety of town companies who generally added an upper storey to form a meeting hall. The defences were reinforced during the English Civil War in 1638 when England was threatened by invasion from Scotland. The town was stormed in 1644 by the Scots acting in support of Parliament; the defences were subsequently repaired. In 1745 at the time of the Jacobite uprising the defences were repaired against the rebels which included walling up all of the gateways. The defences were last repaired at the time of the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. Subsequently, when the threat had passed and with the continuing development of Newcastle upon Tyne, their function as a defensive town boundary ceased. The walls were allowed to fall into decay and several sections were levelled in the years following 1823. Newcastle upon Tyne's town defences survive in various states of preservation. Some parts of the curtain wall still stand to full height, and the towers and turrets are also clearly visible. The ditch is also clearly visible for part of the western side as a pronounced earthwork. Other parts of the defences are no longer visible above the present surface of the ground but in these areas, sections of the walls and the ditch survive below ground level as buried features, and sufficient evidence exists for their positions to be accurately identified. Given the role played by the town defences in one of England's major commercial towns and their contribution towards an understanding of medieval and later urban development all sections of Newcastle's town defences that exhibit significant archaeological remains are considered to be nationally important. Despite some parts of this section surviving below the level of the ground as buried features, the remains of the medieval curtain wall between Hanover Street and the River Tyne survive reasonably well. The preservation of the remains of the tower and curtain wall will provide a valuable insight into the construction techniques employed during the medieval period. The section of 15th century riverside curtain wall and its relationship to the tower is of particular importance as it will contribute to our knowledge of how the defensive circuit evolved during the medieval period. The tower is of unusual form and is a valuable addition to our knowledge. As a monument which is partially accessible to the public, this section of Newcastle's town defences serves as an important educational and recreational resource which will increase our understanding of how Newcastle's defences developed.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument is situated between Hanover Street and the north bank of the River Tyne. It includes the upstanding and buried remains of part of the town defences of Newcastle upon Tyne. The section of town defences between Hanover Street and the River Tyne represents the junction between the western side of the circuit and the later riverside length of curtain wall. It includes a 26m upstanding length and a 45m and a 6.25m wide buried length of curtain wall, a gateway and a tower. The upstanding length of curtain wall is also a Listed Building Grade I. Further sections of the town defences to the north and east are the subject of separate schedulings. Newcastle upon Tyne town defences were constructed from the mid-13th century to the middle or late 14th century enclosing an area of more than 60ha; the riverside lengths of curtain wall were added during the 15th century. The masonry defences were strengthened by a berm and a ditch, except on the south side where they were bounded by the River Tyne. Gateways were built at the principal points of entry to the town. Internally a cobbled inter-mural lane followed the line of the defences. The defences were repaired during the medieval period and were reinforced and repaired several times during the post-medieval period. In this section, immediately north of The Close, on the sloping ground south of Hanover Street, there is an upstanding length of curtain wall 26m long which stands to a maximum height of 4.25m, known as Breakneck Stairs. The wall is constructed of coursed squared ashlar sandstone with a rubble core and is up to 3m wide. It has been built in a series of steps in order to account for the steep gradient. At the southern end of this length of wall, on the flat land at the bottom of the slope beneath The Close, there are the levelled and buried remains of Closegate, one of the principal points of entry to the town. The upper courses of the gateway were dismantled in 1797 but a retrospective 19th century engraving depicts it as a three storey rectangular building containing a central archway. Between Closegate and the River Tyne, there is a 45m length of curtain wall which survives below ground level as a buried feature. This length of curtain wall was uncovered by excavation in 1988 and was shown to have been constructed in the mid-14th century. The footings of the wall which are large, irregularly shaped blocks, are founded in a shallow trench 0.10m to 0.15m deep, cut into the river bank, and, where they extended into the river, lain directly onto the natural sand of the river bed. The wall varies between 2.05m and 2.8m wide and a stepped chamfered plinth survives on its outer western face. Excavation also revealed that this length of wall had been constructed in a series of steps in order to take account of the sloping river bed. The southern end of the curtain wall was subsequently remodelled in order to incorporate a staircase which gave access to a tower, known as Water Tower, which was added to the town defences in the early 15th century. It is situated in the angle formed by the junction of the western side of the defences and the later riverside section of curtain wall forming the south side of the circuit. An engraving of the tower made in 1745 shows it as a square, crenellated structure, and it is recorded as still partially standing in 1789. An engraving of the tower in 1846 depicts it as having three storeys with its upper parts rebuilt in brick. From the late 17th century and through the 18th century the tower was the meeting house for the Company of Housecarpenters and subsequently the Company of Sailmakers. The plan of Water Tower was uncovered by excavation in 1988. The tower, square in shape, measures 6.5m north to south by 6m east to west and has walls ranging from 1.02m to 1.10m wide. The foundations of the south and west walls are between 2.1m to 2.3m wide while those of the north and east are 1.20m wide. There is an entrance way into the tower through the east end of the north wall which retains both the sill and one of the door jambs. In the north west angle of the tower's ground floor there was a fireplace indicated by areas of reddening on the adjacent stonework. The excavation also revealed that the ground floor of the tower was occupied in the years following the English Civil War until the mid-18th century as occupation deposits and the remains of light timber screens or room partitions were discovered. Attached to the eastern side of Water Tower there is a short length of riverside curtain wall, which was uncovered by excavation and survives below ground level as a buried feature. This wall runs parallel to the River Tyne and was constructed in the early 15th century. The curtain wall is on average 1.74m wide, 6.25m long and stands to a maximum height of 4.4m; its south, external face contains two chamfers at its base. The Copthorne Hotel, all retaining walls, railings, street furniture, and the display panel, in addition to all tarmac and stone surfaces are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 32763

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Fraser, et al, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in Excavation Adjacent To Close Gate, Newcastle 1988-9, , Vol. 5 ser 22, (1994), 85-151
Harbottle, B, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in The Town Wall of Newcastle Upon Tyne, , Vol. 4 ser 47, (1968), 87-9
Nolan, J, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in The Medieval Town Defences Of Newcastle Upon Tyne, , Vol. 5 ser 17, (1989), 32-50

End of official listing